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Cocktail Hour: Organic Vodka With a Touch of Basil

Caprese martini

Caprese martini

Craft artisan spirits are everywhere right now, flooding the aisles of Whole Foods and other specialty grocer and liquor store aisles with their colorful labels, innovative bottle designs and winks to both our pre-Prohibition and “Mad Men”-era pasts.

Northern California-based entrepreneur Allison Evanow is one of the new generation of producers of smaller batch, better made spirits. She launched Square One Organic Vodka in May 2006 at the San Francisco premiere of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” documentary.

This year, Evanow was celebrated as a “Trailblazer” at the San Francisco Cocktail Week’s Legends Awards for her leadership role “in the development of high quality, organic spirits and green business practices in the industry.”

Organic vodka dream began in North Dakota

Back when she was getting started, Evanow’s goal was to tap people’s growing interest in organics by creating a vodka made from organic North Dakota rye and distilled at one of the few certified-organic distilleries in the country (in Rigby, Idaho). She then knocked on doors at eco-hotels, spas and anywhere else the organically obsessed might be willing to align their liquor with the rest of their lifestyle.

Evanow has an MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management where she also bartended to help pay tuition. She says the premise came to her after thinking about how much vodka companies are always touting purity. If vodka was supposed to be pure, she thought, shouldn’t it also be free of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers?

Pear Drop cocktail. Credit: Courtesy of Square One Spirits

Pear Drop cocktail. Credit: Courtesy of Square One Spirits

The notion was a challenge, the rye hard to source and expensive, and the distillery not familiar with the grain, having dealt only with corn and wheat-based distillates up to that point. But Evanow persevered, finding the rye more flavorful, with a creamy, nutty edge.

Bartenders began to agree, and Square One soon became a darling of bars focused on using fresh, seasonal ingredients. With interest in organic vodka growing, Square One Cucumber and Botanical soon followed.

The latest Square One vodka is Basil, launched last year. Like the others, it’s made from 100% organic American rye infused with four types of organic basil (Genovese, Thai, lemon and sweet) and with coriander, honeysuckle and lemongrass added for extra layers of flavor.

No genetically modified yeasts, chemical additives or synthetics are allowed in the distillation, a continuous process in which the vodka travels through four columns to purify it before going through a paper filter. Kosher as well as Oregon Tilth Certified Organic, the Basil is an earthy and bright base for a wide range of cocktails, from those mixing in fruit juice to sparkling wine to chopped ginger. We offer two ends of the spectrum here.

Caprese Martini

Serves 1

Created by Square One


¾ ounce tomato juice or 5 cherry tomatoes cut in half

1½ ounces basil vodka, such as Square One Basil

½ ounce fresh lime juice

¼ ounce agave nectar or simple syrup

small pinch of salt

half a bar spoon of olive juice or 3 drops of Worcestershire sauce

cherry tomato, basil leaf and mini mozzarella ball as garnish


1. If using fresh tomatoes, muddle in mixing cup until puréed.

2. Combine all other ingredients and shake with ice.

3. Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass and serve with a “Caprese pick” — skewered cherry tomato, basil leaf and mini mozzarella ball.

Pear Drop

Serves 1

Created by Square One


1½ ounces basil vodka, such as Square One Basil

¾ ounce pear liqueur, such as Mathilde Poire

1 ounce fresh lemon juice

1 ounce agave nectar or simple syrup

pear slice or lemon twist as garnish


1. Combine all ingredients into a mixing cup and shake with ice.

2. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

3. Garnish with pear slice or lemon twist.

Top photo: Caprese martini. Credit: Courtesy of Square One Organic Spirits

Zester Daily contributor Virginie Boone is a Sonoma Valley-based wine writer. She has reported on the Northern California wine scene for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and its affiliate food and wine magazine, Savor, and is a contributing reviewer of California wines for Wine Enthusiast.